A man shot and killed on a Cincinnati freeway in mid-January was the aggressor in the road rage incident and not the victim, according to Hamilton County, Ohio prosecutor Joe Deters, who announced on Thursday that the death of 47-year old Eric Duke will not result in any charges against the man who fired the fatal shots.
In his statement, Deters said that both drivers could have responded differently to the initial incident, but that Duke escalated things to the point that the other driver was in legitimate fear for his life and safety.
The statement said Duke, 47, and the other driver, whose name has not been released, were seen that night by witnesses driving recklessly before Duke slammed on his brakes and reversed his Sprinter van into the other driver’s Chevrolet Colorado in the high-speed lane of the highway near Blue Rock Road.
Deters said Duke got out of his van then began banging on the window and trying to get in the truck.
“The driver of the Colorado had his legs up in a defensive position,” the statement said. “The driver also warned Duke he had a gun. At this point, Duke struck the driver in the mouth and the driver fired one shot – striking Duke in the head.”
Deters said the physical evidence at the scene backed up the driver’s account of what happened. The driver stayed on the scene and called 911 saying he fired in self-defense.
According to news reports at the time of the incident, the man who shot Duke told dispatchers that he was trying to get away when Duke threw his van in reverse and slammed into his vehicle.
The caller was sobbing as he said the other man, who police have now identified as Duke, got out of his vehicle. The caller said Duke was trying to open his door and was pounding on his window.
The caller told the dispatcher he fired in self-defense.
Two other people called 911 in connection with the shooting. A woman, also sobbing, called to report that her boyfriend had just been shot in the head and was dead. She indicated she was present during the confrontation but did not describe what led to the shooting.
Another woman also called 911 to report two drivers speeding and nearly causing accidents on the highway. Later, the same woman called 911 again to report that the vehicles were stopped in the fast lane and there was a man face down on the pavement.
I’m glad that the armed citizen isn’t going to face charges for acting in self-defense, but I’m also pretty sure that if he had it to do over again he would have tried to de-escalate and disengage long before he was forced to pull his gun to protect his life.
Eric Duke’s family describe him as a kind and caring person, and that very well may have been the case most of the time. But Duke could have just driven home after he was cut off, and instead he decided for whatever reason to take a momentary act of frustration and escalate it to the point of physical violence; first by reversing his van into the victim’s truck and then punching him in the face.
It was a decision that had deadly consequences, leaving his family and friends grieving, and forever impacting the man who was forced to defend his life on the side of the road. The worst part about this is that none of it would have happened if Duke had simply driven away. In fact, had he done so he probably would have forgotten all about the jerk who cut him off by the time he woke up the next morning.
We can’t control the behavior of every other driver on the road, but we can control our own. That would include not being a jackass driver when we’re behind the wheel, but it also means ensuring that we’re able to protect and defend our lives if need be.